Life Begins At Thirty : Chapter Eight


Chocolate

Hannah opened her curtains and peered out into the gardens of Crockwell House and across to the farm and airstrip in the distance. The moonlight gave them an eerie glow and she knew that she would have to be brave if she was to make it to the barn in the next field tonight. When she was convinced that no one was outside she opened her window silently and began to climb out onto the kitchen roof below and crept down the slanted slates before climbing down the outhouse wall to ground level.

Hannah had gotten good at this since her first night time rendezvous three weeks ago when she had fallen and grazed her knees on the path outside the kitchen window. Now she knew the exact route she had to take in order to be as safe and as quiet and as quick as possible. Her destination was the east barn in Mr Tennant’s farm field. It was the barn nearest to the airstrip and had been “leant” to the Americans who had been stationed at the airfield for the past five months.

At fifteen years of age, Hannah had been especially taken by the American soldiers in their immaculate blue uniforms as they had been paraded around town on that day five months ago and now that she was sixteen she had caught the eye of one in particular at the Easter social a month ago. She felt sure that he must have a sweetheart back home waiting for him and she was determined to make him forget about her.

Hannah was through the gap in the fence now and into the field. She could hear the clock tower in the town square chime ten in the distance as she made her way through the wheat stalks towards the barn. Hannah was careful not to make too much noise but she stopped suddenly as she heard footsteps from up ahead. She peeked out from behind the wheat stalks and saw a figure of moonlit shadow, too small and wide to be one of the Americans, Mr Tennant maybe?

Hannah swallowed. She couldn’t get caught, couldn’t have herself brought back to Crockwell House by Mr Tennant and be forced to explain what she was doing in his field at ten o clock at night to her parents. They wouldn’t understand.

“Hannah?” The figure spoke. It was Reg, the spotty teenage escapee from London who had been taken in by the Tennant’s. Reg’s parents had been killed in a German air raid and it had been deemed too dangerous for him to remain in the city. Hannah’s parents had tried to make them friends when he arrived. She had shown him around the village but then the Americans happened and Hannah had moved on to other boys. Other men.

“What are you doing here?” Hannah whispered.

“They sent me out here to shoot whatever was trampling the crops” Reg reached for the rifle which lay propped up against the fence post at the end of the row of crops.

Hannah looked down at the bent wheat stalks beneath her feet and looked back to Reg.

“I knew it was you of course. I see you each night as I look from my window. Creeping across the field. It’s a good job Mr Tennant had me look out and not him or you’d be dead right now.” Reg lifted the gun and pointed it at Hannah.

“What do you want?” Hannah asked worried he would turn her in.

“Bring me some of his chocolate” Reg smiled.

“Okay” Hannah laughed. The only way to get chocolate in the village since the sugar rationing had been from the American GIs who were sent care packages from home on a regular basis. As far as Hannah knew, she was the only girl in the village who had eaten chocolate in two years. Reg went back to his patrol and Hannah continued to the barn, opening the door quietly and sneaking inside.

The American was there already, sitting on a blanket waiting for her. She sat next to him and he kissed her and they lay down together on the blanket.

“I have something to show you” his smooth American voice broke the silence. She loved that voice. It gave her butterflies in places she hadn’t known existed before he had arrived.

“What is it?” She cooed.

“A good luck charm. It’s my mothers. It arrived in the mail today. She thinks it will keep me safe when I get deployed” He held an amulet on a gold chain above their heads. “It was my Grandfathers. They say it dates back from civil war times.”

“It looks pretty, can I hold it?”

“Sure” He handed her the amulet.

Hannah looked it over. There was a polished stone in the centre, a ruby or emerald she couldn’t tell in the twilight. The back was covered in markings that she couldn’t make out. She ran her thumb over it. It wasn’t any form of writing she knew. Not that she knew much. Just enough to read her mother’s cookbook.

“Do you want some chocolate?” He asked, reaching into the pocket of his blazer.

“Yes. But can I save it for later?” Hannah asked quietly. She loved chocolate but she also didn’t want Reg to tell Mr Tennant about her being in his fields at night.

“Here, take the bar” he laughed. “I have a lot and I’m supposed to be keeping fit for my deployment”

“When do you go?” Hannah tucked the chocolate into the pocket of her dressing gown.

“Any day now” he said. “I can’t wait. Hitler won’t know what hit him when we seventeenth get to Berlin”

“Seventeenth?”

Hannah was interrupted as, in the distance, the air raid sirens started.

“Speak of the devil. I gotta go before they know I’m gone, get yourself into the shelter” he got up and rushed to the door of the barn.

Hannah heard the sound of bombs dropping the distance, the air raid sirens became louder. She suddenly realised that she was still holding his amulet. She called out to him but he had gone. She heard the scream of a bomb hurtling towards her. She screamed herself and ran for her life. And then she woke up.

Hannah yawned and tried to close her eyes and go back to sleep but any hope of falling asleep disappeared when she heard the muffled conversations of Caroline and Spencer outside, a pause and then a loud bang as the door closed. The blonde girl sighed and pulled herself from underneath the thick duvet nest she had created for herself. She considered getting dressed but, feeling unusually daring like the Hannah in her dreams, decided to sneak naked on her tiptoes across the corridor to the bathroom.

Once she had showered Hannah nipped back across to her room and began to get dressed and then headed to the kitchen to make breakfast. Caroline was sat at the kitchen table absentmindedly spooning her cereal and it was only when the antique kettle on the hob began to whistle that she appeared to register that Hannah had entered the room.

“Morning” Caroline spoke unusually softly.

“Good Morning!” Hannah replied cheerily as she poured the boiling water into her glass loose-leaf tea pot.

“So I need to tell you something” Caroline spoke cautiously. “I met someone last night. At work. He knew you.”

“Knew me?” Hannah poured cereal into a bowl and then reached for the milk. She grimaced. Caroline had left the milk out of the fridge again and it was no longer cold.

“Yeah, I think.” Caroline started. “I think he was the guy you slept with. The intimate guy.”

Hannah turned to look at Caroline, the milk she was holding began to spill and as it hit her bare feet she yelped and quickly set about cleaning it up.

“How do you know” Hannah said a minute later when her voice had returned.

“He said he was looking for a girl called Hannah, a girl he slept with in October, had a one night stand with” Caroline explained.

“And he was in a strip club, you gave him a lap dance?” Hannah’s stomach churned at that thought. How could he, this guy she felt so much for, how could he go to places like that, get dances from girls like Caroline and still be the same guy that she had met, fallen for, that night.

“I did. He was. I think.” Caroline had never thought so much in her life. “I think he was there because he’s lonely. He doesn’t have anybody. Lives alone. The girls all talk about him. He comes in a lot, spends a lot of money. Gets wasted and lets us help him forget whatever it is he’s running from.”

Hannah sat down and thought for a minute. Conflicting thoughts battled in her head. “What did he say about me?” She finally asked.

“He said he was looking for you, was confused why you left without saying goodbye. Without giving him any way of contacting you.” Caroline’s tone suddenly changed, more forceful and less compassionate. “Which is something I agree with to be honest, why did you leave?”

Hannah didn’t like the interrogation but with each new piece of a memory that forced its way into her head she asked herself the exact same question. Why not at least leave a phone number, what was the worst that could have happened, he could have called and she could have ignored it if she didn’t want to talk to him. She hadn’t wanted a one night stand, had felt like a slut for having one, but she had been the one who had made it into a one night stand. She had been the one to decide that it was all that was going to happen.

“I want to see him again” Hannah decided.